Wednesday, November 16, 2005

There's no such thing as cyberspace.

Analog Sky
Analog Sky,
by Corporal Tunnel.
"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." - Neuromancer, by William Gibson

William Gibson was wrong (whew). It turns out that there's no such thing as cyberspace. A few things collided in my mind recently. One: I've been reading this report: Pew Internet & American Life Project Report: Teen Content Creators and Consumers. Two: Last Saturday night I had a conversation with friend of a friend a party about the isolation and impersonality (did I just make up a word?) of "cyberspace". And three: I have this meme I inherited from I know not where: "Always-on Relationships." Obviously, as a civilization, we're still processing, just beginning really, to feel the impact of the expansion of our network beyond physical space. We're still updating our idea of what community is, what workplace, education, conversation is, in this new environment. Those who are going through the process of change marvel at the young ones who had no such preconceptions, and seem to stretch effortlessly past the old boundaries. I love the idea of "social networks" because it contains within it the recognition that "the net", at least the human part, has always existed. Instead of having only light and sound waves as the communication protocol, now it also includes IP and those things we've built on top. Some interesting tidbits from the Pew report:
  • 40% of online kids who live in cities remix and mash original creations out of the web
  • 38% of all online teens say they read blogs, and 62% of those say they only read blogs of people inside their social network
  • 57% of internet-using teens and 50% of teens overall (representing 12M US youth) self-publish on the internet
  • 90% of kids who blog, and 72% of those who don't, use IM to communicate with their friends, and 55%/35% use SMS (I'm guessing this is different in Europe)
That doesn't sound very isolating and impersonal. It sounds like conversation. I can't remember where I first heard the term "always-on relationships". I could be that I inherited this meme from the writings of Philip E. Agre, from the Department of Information Studies at UCLA, who wrote, among many other things, two papers which I highly recommend you read: Cyberspace as American Culture and The Market Logic of Information. I find very compelling the idea that we beginning to see a generation that has not grown up with the idea of the internet as a separate "cyberspace", but instead experiences it as an aspect of the environment in which they live; another channel alongside "real space", only with different characteristics. The Internet as a technology, without the ideology of cyberspace.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Death to slogans!

Say it with me: Death to slogans! At least to those empty, one way, marketing slogans that attempt to change the way I feel about something I already own. That last bit doesn't sound so good when you shout it, but you get the idea. Interesting article by Al Ries in AdAge.com, talking about how the city of Atlanta has chosen this incredibly lame slogan for the city. I bow to Mr. Ries' industry experience when he explains why, in general, bad slogans happen to good people. In this particular case, he points to "creativity" as the culprit. The ad agency wants to win awards, and so they need to do something "new". I'm not sure I entirely agree. This doesn't look especially creative to me. Maybe the problem is that they weren't creative enough, either in using the existing brand asset, or in establishing any new positioning. This is a perfect example of a community that already exists, and has a narrative of its own. This city don't belong to the marketing department, the city bureaucrats, or the politicians. If Atlanta is "Hotlanta" in the minds of the community, then that's what it is. No matter how much new city letterhead you print.

It's not really about the web...

I was reading mynameiskate (which is fast becoming my VERY FAVORITE blog), and it took me to gapingvoid, a site written by Hugh MacLeod (who also helps to run a bespoke tailoring firm English Cut who coincidentally just made a suit for my friend Stewart), where I heard about this contest to help design a new wine bottle for a South African winery called Stormhoek and it got me very excited. You see, one of the things that Hugh MacLeod said to Stormhoek was "You're not competing with Jacob's Creek or Blossom Hill. You're competing with Google and Microsoft and Apple and Skype." Wow. So I entered the contest, and this is what I wrote:
One of my favorite things to do with wine is bring it to someone else's house. It spreads the word, and it's a bottle that's pretty sure to get drunk by a group of people who might not have purchased the wine before. This wine should be the most "give-away-able" wine in the store. It should become a story we can tell to each other at the time we drink it, and later, remembering. To make it giveaway-friendly, I should be able to personalize it; make it a story I tell, not just a gift I bring:
  • A (mostly) blank label. Maybe it's treated paper and you need a special pen, like those kids in the car drawing kits. or something like one of those kid's drawing tablets that has a top layer you peel off to erase and start again?
  • A label that is "remembers" my hand-print as I carry it into the house - maybe heat sensitive label that "sets" after a few minutes of consistent contact with your hand? If it had a "mood ring" quality to it so that every hand print was a slightly different colour that would be great.
  • Each label is a clear sleeve into which I can put a photo. The launch of the new bottle design would somehow include an instant camera so the picture can be taken "before bottle is drunk" and "after bottle is drunk". Give the recipient a reason to keep the bottle (and the branding) in their house afterwards.
The wine should be an ice-breaker; it should become a story we can tell to each other
  • Each label can be removed to create a cool and fun ice-breaker game. It could be enhanced by (but not require) a visit to the website. .
  • Each bottle comes with a USB key, that has some "limited edition" MP3s burned into ROM (along with the useful RAM, so it can be used as a regular USB key).
  • ...or how about we get really crazy and make each bottle a disposable MP3 player itself? The electronics to do that are tiny now (think about $2.50 in volume - each bottle has a headphone jack and plays a different song. Bring a six-pack of 500ml bottles and you're the bartender AND the DJ.
So the wine bottle becomes a web 2.0 application, hooking into and enhancing services and communities that already exist.